Monday, January 12, 2015

`A Small Enough Improvement'

Someone I don’t know well at the university last week observed: “You speak in complete sentences.” For a moment I was confused. Was this praise? Criticism? The tired allegation of elitism? Neither, really. She might have been pointing out that my hair was combed and my shoes were shined. In an age of oppressive informality, the formal becomes freakish. Joseph Epstein would understand. His modest goal is elimination of “yeah,” a word my father hated, from his conversation: 

“A small enough improvement, this attempt to eliminate a single slurry word from my speech, yet I would nonetheless like to achieve it. Some years ago I gave up, with reasonable if not complete success, profanity, which was threatening to take over my speech. (I still require a certain amount of profanity for my thoughts.) I long ago eliminated psychobabble from my vocabulary. I attempt to speak in full and grammatical sentences, not to mix metaphors, to divest myself of clichés, even to eliminate split infinitives, so with all this grooming of my speech, yeah, I feel, also has got to go.” 

I never picked up psychobabble but would feel almost defenseless without profanity.

3 comments:

Constance Steckel said...

Some people can make "yeah" really sexy sounding. Don't want to give that up. It's "like" that is the real scourge....

Subbuteo said...

For us on the other side of the Herring Pond the import of the redundant "So" at the beginning of sentences is also anathema. It just conveys the fact that one is about to be patronised.

Constance Steckel said...

I agree, "SO" is definitely talking down, and seems lately to be the default start of any sentence in which someone 'explains' something to someone who doesn't know.